The Nintendo Switch is one console you can take everywhere — here’s what you need to know

We had to wait for months in anticipation, but Nintendo has finally released the Switch into the wild, and players have been able to dive into the incredible The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Many previous rumors and talking points became clearer after we were able to get our hands on the system — including a region-free eShop and a stellar user interface — but technical problems first reported before the console’s launch remain unresolved. Read our full Nintendo Switch review for more details. Below, we’ve gathered everything you need to know about Nintendo’s latest console.

Three different ways to play

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The Nintendo Switch is a “hybrid” console that can be used at home on a TV, and also as a portable console similar to Nintendo’s Game Boy and DS lines. Players can change between the console’s home and portable configurations on the fly, too, hence the name “Switch.” Transitioning between these mode is remarkably simple, and the most you have to do for the Switch to register a screen change is press the L and R buttons simultaneously. Simply placing the Switch into its dock will turn the system on, and the default settings even allow the Switch to automatically turn on your TV.

TV mode

All of the processing power in the Switch lies within the tablet portion of the system, with an HDMI-connected charging dock, and a pair of Joy-Con controllers that can be removed from the sides of the console. This unique configuration allows the Switch to adopt a number of different form factors for both single and multi-player games. Its traditional control scheme — split across the two controllers — features the classic “A-B-X-Y” button cluster, as well as a “d-pad” that actually features separate buttons, two analog sticks, a “home” button, a “share” button, and “plus” and “minus” buttons.

You can play with the Joy-Cons attached to the included Joy-Con grip for a more traditional control scheme, but with the simple press of two buttons, the Joy-Cons detach from the grip, allowing you to play with one Joy-Con in each hand, or even with a single Joy-Con (used like a Wii remote). The Joy-Con straps assist and add comfort to the free-form control schemes by adding SL (Shoulder Left) and SR (Shoulder Right) bumper buttons.

The Joy-Cons have a more fine-tuned range of controls than Wii remotes. The HD rumble makes the Joy-Con controllers feel as if marbles are rolling around inside of it, which allows for a more precise motion-based experience than the the Wii.

Nintendo also showed off the Nintendo Switch “Pro” controller ($70) during the system’s official unveiling. It’s shaped similarly to the Wii’s “Pro” controller, but the analog sticks are placed asymmetrically in a similar fashion to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

Tabletop mode

The Switch’s built-in LCD screen provides two different modes of play: Tabletop mode and handheld mode.

Users who want to play local multiplayer games away from home can detach the Joy-Con controllers from the sides of the Switch, and turn them sideways to become two discrete “classic” controllers similar Nintendo’s Wii remote. A kickstand on the back of the Switch, which also doubles as a cover for the microSD slot, also lets the console stand up on its own, which will allow for players to use a more traditional control scheme if playing alone — without having to touch the system itself. The kickstand feels remarkably cheap, however, and we would recommend investing in a third-party stand if you wish to use the system this way.

Each Joy-Con has a camera and motion detection, too. The right Joy-Con is even equipped with an infrared motion camera that’s designed to detect distance and even discern simple hand-gestures, like telling “Scissors” from “Rock” in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The left Joy-Con controller also features a “capture” button, which allows users to share screenshots with the touch of a button, and even make silly image macros.

Handheld mode

This mode is essentially a Wii U controller you can take with you anywhere. The Joy-Con controllers snap to the sides of the tablet, rendering the device a portable handheld. It’s about the same size of the Wii U controller, too, though a bit less bulky.

The Switch’s portable display pulls double-duty as a multi-touch screen, much like the Nintendo DS. That was a big part of the design philosophy behind the Switch, according to Nintendo: To build on the legacy of all past consoles.

The touchscreen uses Immersion’s haptic technology, but is only be utilized in-game when in tablet mode with the Joy-Con controllers detached. The touchscreen is capacitive, meaning it is capable of registering multiple finger presses at once.

Switching up the specifications

Even though we learned a lot about the Nintendo Switch in the weeks leading up to the console’s launch, its exact system specifications have only now come to light. Over at Nintendo U.K., you can look at detailed back and front diagrams of all of its central components, including the console, its docking station, Joy-Con controllers, Joy-Con straps, and the Joy-Con grip. We also have a handy table with the console’s basic specifications.

Processor Nvidia Tegra custom processor, exact specifications unknown.
Storage 32GB, expandable through MicroSD cards up to 2TB in size.
Screen 720p 6.2-inch LCD screen, capacitive multi-touch.
Resolution Up to 1080p on televisions.
Audio Stereo speakers, HDMI connector in docked mode “compatible with 5.1ch Linear PCM output.” 3.5mm audio jack.
Ports On dock: 3 USB 2.0, AC port, HDMI port, USB-C port (system connector).
Battery on console 2.5 to 6.5 hours of playtime. Lithium-ion 4310mAh.
Charging time Three hours in sleep mode.
Controller battery 20 hours of playtime.
Controller charging time 3.5 hours.
Wireless on console IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1
Wireless on controllers Bluetooth 3.0, NFC on right Joy-Con for Amiibo.

The portable unit is fitted with a 6.2-inch capacitive touchscreen capable of displaying at 1280 x 720-pixel resolution, but when in console mode, it maximizes at up to 1920 x 1080 resolution on your TV. There are three sensors on the console, too, including an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and one for brightness. The CPU and GPU are handled by a custom Nvidia Tegra processor. The Switch has 32 GB of internal storage, but an undisclosed amount is consumed by the operating system. To expand the console’s small storage capacity, there’s also a microSD card slot that will support both microSDHC and microSDXC cards up to 2 TB.

The console’s battery life ranges between 2.5 and 6 hours, depending on what you’re doing. Intensive games such as Breath of the Wild will drain the unit in roughly three hours. It will also take approximately three hours to fully charge the battery while in sleep mode, but it remains unclear what the difference is when the console is powered down. The lithium ion battery charges via USB Type-C, however, and is non-replaceable. Should a battery die, Nintendo has stated that it plans to offer paid maintenance through its customer support channels.

The Switch boasts both Bluetooth 4.1 and Wireless LAN communication, and stereo audio through both its internal speakers and a standard headphone jack.

The dock has a compartment for the unit to rest in while in console mode, two USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI out port, and an AC port. Nintendo has also stated that USB 3.0 compatibility will be added in a later update. An LED light on the front of the dock turns on when the system is docked for console play.

The Joy-Con controllers also sport a bevy of features. They are both equipped with Bluetooth 3.0, while the right Joy-Con also has NFC (near-field communication). Each controller also includes an accelerometer and a gyroscope, and the right has an infrared motion camera. The Joy-Cons include an HD rumble feature that makes motion games feel more precise and realistic. Each Joy-Con lasts up to 20 hours on a full charge, and can be charged within 3.5 hours. Out of the box, the Joy-Cons can only be charged while attached to the console, and the controllers will not be charged if attached to a powered-down system. A Joy-Con charging grip is also sold separately. Like the console’s battery, the Joy-Con batteries are non-replaceable. If either one dies, Nintendo will offer paid repair services.

The Joy-Con straps feature locking mechanisms to ensure safety while playing motion-based games, and they also add additional shoulder buttons to each Joy-Con. The charging grip also includes an attachment for the straps, presumably as a way of keeping track of them. There’s also an LED light on the grip that indicates the player number, which will be particularly useful for multiplayer games.

Nvidia-powered performance, and region-free

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We know that the system uses a custom Nvidia Tegra chipset, but even after launch, we still don’t know exactly what that means performance-wise. Although previous statements by Nintendo stressed that the system would have the exact same level of performance in both its docked and undocked configurations, there is a slight caveat we’ve experience thus far with Zelda, which can experience framerate drops due to the increased resolution in its docked mode.

“The Nintendo Switch’s gaming experience is also supported by fully custom software, including a revamped physics engine, new libraries, advanced game tools, and libraries,” Nvidia said in a post on its blog. “Nvidia additionally created new gaming APIs to fully harness this performance. The newest API, NVN, was built specifically to bring lightweight, fast gaming to the masses.”

According to Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry, the system’s GPU is reportedly clocked at 768MHz, but it drops to 307.2MHz — about 40 percent of the docked speed — when in its portable configuration. Given the Switch’s display has a lower resolution than most TVs, this leads to more stable performance levels overall, and the portable configuration is, more often than not, a more consistent platform than the docked configuration. A “performance mode” is reportedly in the works, however, which will increase the system’s processing power in its portable configuration at the cost of battery life, according to Eurogamer.

Nintendo insider Emily Rogers, who previously (and correctly) reported that the Switch would be unveiled in October, also announced through Twitter that the system includes 4GB of RAM. Samsung appeared to have confirmed this back in February, briefly posting a page for its “MemoryLink” LPDDR4 RAM that mentioned the Switch.

Game file sizes may be smaller than both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, as well. The Wall Street Journal’s Takashi Mochizuki reported shortly after the Switch’s announcement that its proprietary cartridges contain a 16GB capacity. Prior to the announcement, Eurogamer reported that Nintendo is recommending developers fit games onto a 32GB card. These cards, like most other game cartridges, don’t require any extra installation onto the Switch’s internal storage, making the time-to-play process essentially instant. Given the file size of Dragon Quest Heroes clocks in at 32GB, it would seem that this would also be the capacity of the cartridges.

The Wall Street Journal’s Takashi Mochizuki previously stated that the system sports an internal bus speed of 5GB per second, which is a substantial upgrade from the 3DS’ 128MB per second speed.

A touch-friendly user interface

Nintendo Switch review
Mike Epstein/Digital Trends
Mike Epstein/Digital Trends

Like the 3DS, Wii U, and Wii before it, Nintendo has opted for a simple, clean software interface for the Switch. It’s more user-friendly than what we’ve seen on the Wii U and 3DS, and offers convenient tabs for quickly switching between functions and large tiles that are reminiscent of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 dashboards.

After “switching” on the system and entering information related to the date, time, and location, the Switch will ask you if you want to connect it to a larger display, at which point you can remove the two Joy-Con controllers and place the console in its dock. Once this is complete, you select an icon for yourself, as well as a nickname, which can be changed at any point.

Once the setup process is complete, you will see that the console’s main menu is divided into several sections. The first of these, “News,” currently offers tips on using the Switch itself. Next to this are options for the Nintendo eShop and “Album,” which contains any screenshots you’ve taken. Finally, we have “controllers,” which you can use to pair new Joy-Cons or change your “grip,” and options for both general settings and power. This setting also shows how much battery life is left in your Joy Cons, regardless of whether they’re attached to the Switch.

Power modes

The Nintendo Switch is designed to be left in “sleep” mode the majority of the time it isn’t being used. The system can be placed into this mode manually by tapping the power button on the console itself or by holding the “home” button on the right Joy-Con and selecting the “Sleep” option. In sleep mode, the system will be available for use almost instantly, and it will allow the Switch to charge the Joy-Con controllers when it’s docked. If a sleeping Switch is placed into the dock, it will remain in sleep mode.

You can also power down your Switch if you wamt, but it’s a little more complicated than on most other consoles. Holding the power button on the Switch will pull up a “power options” menu, which must be selected with the Joy-Cons or another controller. Should you turn your Switch off in “portable” mode and then place it into the dock, it will turn back on.

A new, paid online service

After more than a decade of free online multiplayer across the DS, Wii, 3DS, and Wii U, Nintendo will finally be introducing a paid, subscription-based online service to the Nintendo Switch. This will take place in the fall, following a free trial period during the console’s launch window.

Once the trial period has ended, Nintendo’s online service will also introduce an online lobby and voice chat system accessible through a mobile app. This app will allow you to invite your friends into multiplayer matches and even set play appointments when you’re away from your console, and a “limited” version will be available this summer. The app is also the only planned way to voice chat with other players, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime revealed to IGN. Neither Miiverse nor StreetPass — both staples of Nintendo’s online platform for years — will be integrated into the Switch.

But the smartphone app won’t just be limited to players on your Nintendo Account’s friend list. You can also use it to schedule game appointments with friends via their social media accounts, allowing for players to quickly jump into voice chat if an appointment is set up on short notice.

In a similar manner to Xbox Live’s “Games With Gold” and PlayStation Plus, the Nintendo Online service will include special deals as well as a free monthly download to all paying subscribers. The game will be from either the Nintendo Entertainment System or Super Nintendo Entertainment System back catalogue, and will include online play for the first time. However, the games will only be available during the month they are introduced — after that, you’ll have to purchase them.

Though eShop purchases will now be tied to Nintendo Accounts instead of individual consoles, this doesn’t mean you’ll be able to play a digital game on multiple Switch systems. Only one “active” Switch can play digital games registered to a Nintendo Account at any given moment, but with the removal of region locking, users are free to browse the Japanese eShop to search for any games that aren’t available in the North American one.

Nintendo has yet to announce how much this service will cost, however.

Not region locked

The Switch will not be region locked. A Switch purchased in North America will works with games purchased in Japan, or elsewhere (and vice versa). This applies to not only the aforementioned eShop games, but also physical releases.

Ready for LAN parties

In addition to the multiplayer options accessible through the Switch’s premium service, the system will also support wired LAN (Local Area Network) play with up to nine other docked consoles. In Splatoon 2, this allows for eight players to compete in a match while another two use the game’s “spectator” mode, with special camera controls that allow for the cinematic views we’ve come to expect from tournament-ready shooters.

Many ways to make friends

Thus far, the method for finding friends via Nintendo’s consoles has been antiquated at best and ridiculously convoluted at worst. Although the Switch doesn’t do away with this infrastructure entirely, it’s much easier to make friends than in the past.

Twelve-digit friend codes make their return, presumably to keep children from getting friend requests from strangers. Located on your Switch profile page — which is accessible via the top-left corner — you’ll see your friend code preceded by the letters “SW.” When another player enters this on their system, you’ll receive a friend request, and the two of you will be friends after confirming it.

If you’ve played a multiplayer game with another Switch user, you can also quickly send them a request using the “add friends” tab on the left of your screen. And if you’ve used the same Nintendo Account on your Switch as you did in games like Super Mario Run and Miitomo, any friends will also show up to add from these services without a friend code.

Nintendo promises that, in the future, users will also be able to add friends via social networks as well as with Nintendo Network ID — a system that the Nintendo Account has effectively replaced.

Share your best moments

Like the PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4 controller, the Nintendo Switch features a “capture” button to instantly save images of your games as they happen. Pressing the button on the left Joy-Con saves an image that can then be accessed by clicking the blue “Album” tab on the Switch’s home page. Inside, you can add text to the images — up to 100 characters — and then share them to either Facebook or Twitter.

Amiibo

Just like with the Wii U and the New 3DS, Nintendo Switch supports Amiibo figures out of the box. To use them in Breath of the Wild, you must enable Amiibo functionality in the game’s options, select it as your “rune” power, and find a suitable place — one without an “X” — for your in-game items to land. Next, tap the Amiibo to your right Joy-Con’s analog stick and it should register instantly. Many of the same Amiibo used in previous Nintendo games are also compatible with the Switch.

Gaming and gaming first

The Wii, Wii U, and even the 3DS supported streaming services such as Netflix in an attempt to make the systems the source for entertainment. But Nintendo is taking a different strategy with the Switch, at least at first. Streaming services such as Netflix, and essentially anything not directly related to gaming, is not available at launch.

This doesn’t rule out the possibility of Netflix or Hulu support coming in the future, however. Given the system’s kickstand and relatively large display, it seems like the perfect fit for watching TV or movies on the go.

Issues

With the Nintendo Switch out in the wild, we have begun to hear reports of the system’s technical issues. These concern a number of components on the Switch, including its Joy-Con controllers and screen, as well as poor Wi-Fi performance that can limit the system’s usefulness.

Joy-Con disconnecting

The most widespread of these issues affects the Switch’s left Joy-Con controller. When used in the Switch’s “docked” configuration, multiple users have reported that the controller would occasionally de-syncronize from the system, and that the game would not automatically pause when this occurred. The problems have not been consistent among users, as some reported having been disconnected several times while others only had it happen once or twice. That said, we have had no issue with this in our play-testing thus far.

The problem could be software related. A Day One update released alongside the system was supposed to rectify these issues, but the problems appear to be just as common as before. Nintendo also suggested that the issue could be related to other electronic devices causing interference in the users’ rooms, including laptops, microwaves, printers, and other USB devices.

Poor Wi-Fi signal

In addition to the system’s Joy-Con issues, the Switch also appears to suffer from a problem related to its Wi-Fi signal. When placed a mere 20 feet away from a router, we experienced fluctuation between one and two “bars” of signal strength, and other users report that it’s the only one of their devices suffering from connectivity issues. Nintendo recommends placing the system within 10 feet of your router, which is impossible in many living room setups.

Scratched displays

The Switch’s dock is quite thin, with just enough room for the console to be inserted when playing games on your TV. If placed in the dock incorrectly, however, small bumpers inside can scratch the unit’s display — a problem that has made a screen protector a very wise purchase for those who will “switch” between the two modes frequently. Early users have attached pieces of foam to protect the system from unwanted scratches, and Digital Trends contributor Steven Petite even attached a microfiber cloth to the side as a temporary solution.

Usually, these issues can be fixed via third-party screen protectors, but early reviews for the ones manufactured by PDP say that the pieces of plastic were cut incorrectly and can lead to bubbles. Tempered glass protectors are a better option, though their availability is limited thus far.

What games can you play on the Switch?

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Nintendo consoles live and die by their software support, and the Switch certainly appears to be a major improvement over the Wii U in this regard. Confirmed third-party partners for the console include Bethesda, Activision, Ubisoft, Warner Bros., Epic, Capcom, Konami, Sega, Grasshopper Manufacture, and even Dark Souls studio From Software, and we’ve already gotten a quick taste of what other developers have been working on for the system. In February, Nintendo said there are more than 100 games currently in development for the console from 70 different publishers, and that it has “continued to receive requests from more and more software publishers who want to develop games for the system.” This is in stark contrast to the Wii U, which saw less than 200 games release in North America.

That library includes a litany of ports, including Lego City Undercover and The Binding of Issac, because the Switch does not support backward compatibility for Wii U games. The Switch does not have a disc drive, either, and thus can’t read Wii and Wii U discs.

During the Switch unveiling, we saw brief glimpses of several different games, including a new FIFA game from EA and a new Shin Megami Tensei game, along with a new Sonic title, Minecraft, and a host of other games featured throughout the event. We don’t have release dates for these titles, but suspect that information will be coming soon.

How much does it cost, and when can you get it?

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The Switch costs $300 in the United States, and includes the console, two Joy-Con controllers, two wrist straps, the Joy-Con grip, a dock, an HDMI cable, and a USB Type-C AC Adaptor. The Nintendo Switch is available now worldwide, though, supplies are sold out at most major retailers. Check out our Nintendo Switch availability guide if you’re having trouble finding one.

The Switch will also be playable at PAX East in Boston starting March 10, and at SXSW in Austin, Texas, starting March 16.

Update notes

Updated on 1-12-2017 by Jayce Wagner: Updated information regarding launch titles, and details from January 12 event.

Updated on 1-16-2017 by Steven Petite: Added additional details on how the system works

Updated on 1-19-2017 by Steven Petite: Added system UI details

Updated on 1-27-2017 by Steven Petite: Updated and added new information about system specifications.

Updated on 2-1-2017 by Gabe Gurwin: Added information on number of games in development for Switch.

Updated on 2-13-2017 by Gabe Gurwin: Added more information on smartphone app and LAN play

Updated on 2-24-2017 by Gabe Gurwin: Added more information on physical cartridges, lack of family sharing, and controller issues.

Updated on 3-6-2017 by Gabe Gurwin: Updated guide to reflect most current information. Added sections on more known issues, specifications, and online features.

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